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Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Psalm 139 Where Can I Flee from Your Presence

This morning we are going to talk about some hard things, about depression and suicide. We will start and end with hope though.
This is one of my favourite psalms, a psalm of reassurance and hope. Over the years, the promise in this psalm that I never have to feel alone, no matter where I might find myself, I can be confident that Jesus is right there with me. When I was younger, that thought sometimes scared me because that meant that Jesus was also there when I was doing something that I probably shouldn’t be doing, but Psalm 139 is not meant to scare us, but to give us confidence that no matter where life takes us, “You’ll never walk alone,” as the old song by Gerry and the Pacemakers sang a lot of years ago.
Growing up, I often felt lonely. I didn’t quite fit in at school or church and only found a place where I really fit in at Air Cadets and the Naval Reserve. I was frustrated with God and the church and so I dropped out of school at 17 and went to sea. I left family, church and God behind. I wasn’t trying to flee from God so much, it was more because of my loneliness and not feeling I really belonged, even in church. Today it might be considered depression. Depression is something both my mother and grandfather wrestled with also.
Then one night I was standing watch at the stern of the ship, responsible for making sure that if someone fell overboard, I would keep an eye on them while raising the alarm so they could be saved. It was a calm evening and the night sky was filled with stars while the Northern Lights danced and it was all being reflected off the ocean. The padre wandered back to where I was and began talking with me, we had had a few conversations in the past. Then he asked when I had last gone to church and I couldn’t remember, then he asked if I still believed in God. I told him I wasn’t sure, so he told me to look at the sky and ocean and tell him that that there is no God. He said he would stand my watch for me for 15 minutes while I looked and thought.
So, I stopped and looked and wondered at the amazing sight and realized that this couldn’t have happened by accident, that there is a God. I went back to the padre told him that I do believe there’s a God and then he told me that I only have 2 choices now, either seriously follow God or continue to ignore him, there is no other choice. It was the start of my journey back to Jesus. Some of the things that went through my head are reflected in this psalm. Jesus knows me, he knows my thoughts and my heart. He knew my loneliness and frustration; there was no place I could be, even on a ship on the North Atlantic, where he didn’t know where I was.
I’ve often wondered what was going on in King David’s life that he stops and writes this song of trust and praise because he knows that no matter what’s going on, he’s not alone, that God is with there. Was it when he was hiding in the caves, running from King Saul, or maybe when his son Absalom was rebelling against him and turning the people of Israel against him, or maybe it was during the time when Bathsheba was losing her baby and David was helpless to stop the baby’s death? David went through a lot of hard times, and I’ve wondered when reading many of his psalms, if he might not have suffered from times of depression through them. The psalm ends with David cursing those who are wicked and are talking against God. Even though David often messed up, he still trusts God and keeps coming back to God. In his times of deepest grief, David turns to God for his hope, for his strength. God never gives up on David, not even darkness or night, distance or anything else stops God from being there through the Holy Spirit.
In this psalm, David marvels out loud about who God is. God knows him! God knows his thoughts and his heart, all his habits and ways of doing things, knows how David’s first focus, even though he slips time and time again, is to follow God in complete trust. For the people of Israel like King David, knowing is not about head knowledge, it’s the kind of knowing that comes from being in a relationship. It’s like when you ask a guy about a new girl that he is dating. He knows that she’s pretty, that she has a nice laugh, and brown hair. He might know the colour of her eyes, but early on in their relationship, that might be all. He knows things about her, but doesn’t really know her yet, know what makes her cry, what hurt she might have experienced in the past, her dreams for the future, what fills her with hope, how she experiences love from someone, or her relationship with Jesus. He doesn’t know her heart and soul yet, and that takes a life time to learn, ask anyone who has been married for a while.
David knows that no matter what is going on, that God’s there with him. Even when David’s doing something that goes against what God wants, even then God is there to guide him and hold him fast. God was already with David when he was in his mother’s womb, forming him just as he formed Adam out of the dirt of the ground and Eve out of the side of Adam. Let that settle in a moment, you’ve been formed by God himself. Because of sin we get twisted in all kinds of ways, but Jesus came to us, became one of us, being in a womb just like us, to let us know that we don’t have to be afraid of ever being alone because he’s giving us the Holy Spirit to live right inside of us. God in us, meaning that Jesus knows us, knows our hearts, our loves, our fears, our disappointments, our anger and passions and even our depression and hopelessness. Jesus laughs with us and he weeps with us. Jesus brings heaven close, though we don’t completely experience it yet because the effects of sin are still here with us and in us.
This week, a mega church pastor in the US took his own life. Pastor Jarrid Wilson was respected deeply for helping those who struggled with mental health issues, those who wrestled with suicidal thoughts because of hopelessness, difficult backgrounds, bullying and the stress of being a young person and adult today. Pastor Jarrid kept pointing us to Jesus, reminding us that Jesus came to us, that God keeps coming after us because he cares so much for us. Because life can be hard, because so many people struggle with loneliness, with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, we’ve been given the church so that we have people around us who care about us with the love and presence of Jesus. Being a Christian does not make you immune to depression, hopelessness, and suicide.
When this psalm speaks of enemies, today David could easily talk about those feelings and thoughts that hurt us so deeply and tempt us to try to flee from life and family and friends and even God. Ed Stetzer writes, “There is a perception, and a deeply dangerous one at that, that teaches that once we've been born again or are walking in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, the very real challenges of depression, of psychological struggle, of spiritual difficulty, of mental illness, cease. This is a lie. And when we believe this, we make dangerous assumptions.” Often, we don’t have the strength and ability to fight these battles on our own, we need to reach out when we’re struggling, whether a suicide hot-line, a school counselor, to a friend, a parent, pastor or elder who can walk with us and pour strength and hope back into us. As a church we need to be willing to talk about hard things, provide a safe place without judgement for people to honestly and transparently share what they are going through.
Jesus has made you; you are fearfully and wonderfully made and he invites you to come to him, he knows your thoughts, your heart and he is with you always; you are not alone! We are here with you as well! On Pastor Jarrid’s website, he posted this a few days before his death, “September is #SuicidePrevention month, and we want everyone to know that #YourLifeMatters!... We want everyone to know that God loves you, life matters, and you have a purpose in this world. Hope is here!” Jesus is always reaching out to you, he is here. So, my friends, be ready to be found out by the God who seeks and searches, and don't resist. Receive God with an open heart.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Matthew 25:31-46; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 Time

I love both these passages this morning, they both reach me in different ways, but both speak to how I see and understand the world around me. Matthew 25 reminds me of the importance of what we do and how we relate to each other and taking the time to notice the people around me and how I can be a blessing, while Ecclesiastes 3 reminds me that time is important and that our lives are made up of different seasons and times. Ecclesiastes 3 also reminds me, that even though there are so many people who don’t accept Jesus or God or have only a really loose connection to Jesus, the world still recognizes much of the beauty and wisdom in the Bible. The Byrds wrote a song called Turn, Turn, Turn, see if you recognize where the lyrics comes from. (play video)
Ecclesiastes is mostly known for telling us that everything is meaningless. The writer repeats this over and over again. It’s no different with time. Time gets its meaning from how we spend it. How many of you have felt like time gets away from you, that it seems to move too fast at times? I find when I’m online looking for something specific, that I can find myself following rabbit trails, clicking from one site to another, and then discover that an hour has slipped by. You need a healthy regular diet to be your physical best, in the same way, we’re called to use time in a healthy way to be healthy spiritually, emotionally and physically to become who God has created us to be.
There is just so much time; we all have the same amount of time each day-24 hours-so how we spend our time is important. I find it interesting that how I feel about the way my day has gone often depends on how I spent my time and whether I believe I accomplished anything of value with that time. That can be so subjective because what I consider valuable may be different from someone else.
Paraphrasing Pastor Lora Copley, “Ecclesiastes is wisdom literature that recognizes the reality and rightness of these different times. We challenge the assumption that we ought to be happy all the time, realizing if we’ve lost someone to divorce or Alzheimer’s or a miscarriage, it’s right to weep. We recognize there’s a time to scatter stones, breaking down physical and relationship walls that keep us from healthy relationships, and a time to hate the wrong and evil that’s in our world and destroys so much. Often what’s so hard in life is we don’t know which times are which. Say you have a relative who doesn’t know Jesus, when is it the time to speak or the time to be silent? Or a friend has really betrayed you, is it time to walk away from the friendship or heal it? Wisdom encourages us to recognize the importance of balance and the discernment of different times and seasons.”
The Teacher in Ecclesiastes reminds us that there’s a variety of times; a time for our families, a time to take care of our needs, a time to work hard, a time to play and rest, a time to love our families and ourselves, a time of love our neighbours and our community, and always it’s time to love God and follow his leading. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 25 that we need to be aware that our time is also his time and that when we use our time to help and serve others, we are actually using our time to serve and love him. Rev. Peter Marty writes, “Our incognito Lord takes up residence in people who don't seem to count. We ought to forget all fascination with some moral virtue in the sheep and some grievous fault in the goats. The king in our story never says a word about anyone compiling an impressive moral record. The only difference between the sheep and the goats appears to be the willingness of the former to look other people in the eye and meet them in their circumstance. Faith is more than feeding and caring for others - it is believing that these other ones actually have a place in our heart.”
Jesus enters into our time to show us God’s love and call on our lives and hearts and time, not just with words, but through an outward focused, other focused life where there’s always time for someone else. Jesus was always aware of the people around him and never let time stand in the way of serving and getting to know these who came searching for him. There was Nicodemus who came in the dark of night to find food for his soul, there was Jairus’ daughter who was dying and yet when a woman who had been bleeding for years and whose only hope was Jesus touched him in a last gesture of hope, Jesus stopped and acknowledged her even though it meant Jairus’ daughter died. Even then, Jesus continued to go with Jairus and took the time to show his power over death by raising her from the dead. Jesus took time to kneel beside a woman caught in adultery and protected her from being stoned to death. He then took the time to raise her up by the hand and speak into her heart, asking her where her accusers were and then gently and firmly telling her that he also doesn’t condemn her, but to go and sin no more.
Jesus enters into time to save us from our selfish use of time that focuses on “me” rather than Jesus and other focused. Jesus spends his time with us to show us the Father, to model what a God focused life looks like, and to take our sin onto the cross, to take the punishment we earned on himself to make us right with God again, to bring healing into our relationship with God, each other, ourselves and with creation. Jesus gives us his time to transform our hearts, to help us become more like Jesus, focused on being a blessing instead of receiving blessings. Jesus shows us that there’s time for study of the Scriptures, times for prayer and solitude, times for fellowship and weddings and meals with friends, times for serving, and time to sacrifice our lives to God’s purposes. There is never a sense of time getting away from Jesus so that he runs out of time, Jesus is very conscious of how valuable his time is.
Jesus shows us in Matthew 25 what a life of blessing looks like, it looks like taking the time to bless and help those who don’t have the same blessings we do. This isn’t brand new to the people, Jesus simply reminds us that this is who God has created us to be as his people, his children. Proverbs 19:17, “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.” Isaiah 58:6–7, Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” Then there is Paul’s encouragement in Romans 2:7, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.” To live like this, to be shaped by the Holy Spirit means that we open up the time in our lives to the moving of the Holy Spirit when it opens our eyes to see the people around us, showing us the opportunities we have to be more like Jesus in their lives.
At the beginning of a new church season, it’s a good time to stop a moment before we allow ourselves to get too busy and take stock of how we spend our time, to reflect on how much of the time we’ve been given we’re using for ourselves and how much we use to know God better, to spend time with Jesus, how much time we focus on being a blessing and to use the gifts we’ve been given to serve the church and our community. Time is both meaningless and precious, it all depends on how it’s filled. There’s a time to work, a time to study, a time to rest, a time for yourself and a time to serve others; “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens,” but we need to use the wisdom the Holy Spirit gives us to wisely to figure how to use the time God gives us.

Friday, 6 September 2019

Revelation 22:1-6 The Leaves of the Tree are for Healing

It’s Labour Day weekend, the end of summer and the end of our summer series looking at various tree images in the Bible. We’re ending it by looking at the end of the story which also brings us back to the beginning of the story. The Bible mentions trees in the very first chapter of Genesis, the first book of the Bible and now here in the final chapter of the Bible we encounter trees again. Here we find the tree of life, the tree Adam and Eve failed to eat from in Genesis 3, choosing to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil instead. Through the Bible we find references and images of the tree of life while the tree of knowledge of good and evil is never spoken of again. Now here, when Jesus returns and brings heaven down to earth again, the tree of life is available to eat from again. It’s not just the fruit of the tree of life that’s good for eating, but the leaves are good for the healing of the nations.
In this city garden, we see how history has moved from a simple garden filled with streams flowing through it, a place where everything lived in harmony and humanity’s task was to nurture and discover the potential in creation and help creation become everything that God created it to be. Things got messed up when Adam and Eve chose to go against God’s plan in order to make themselves equal to God by eating from the one tree in the garden God had said not to eat from. The punishment for their disobedience is death and a curse placed on the ground so that life becomes filled with painful toil, with thorns and thistles and sweat and achy muscles and bones at the end of the day. We’re separated from God’s presence; no longer does he walk with us at the end of the day in the cool of the garden. But now the Apostle John shows us that with the return of Jesus, the tree of life returns and, as Robert Mounce writes, “there will be no more physical or spiritual want any longer.”
This image touches my soul because my brother Glen was born with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, mental retardation, among other things, when his birth mother fought against him when she began labour. Life was hard for him, he lived with pain all his life. This image in Revelation points to physical, mental and spiritual healing and renewal and I look forward to walking alongside the river under the shade of the tree of life with Glen and hearing him speak for the first time and getting to know him more deeply as my brother, learning how he experienced life here while he was with us, and then life with Jesus after Jesus took him home years ago.
There are so many people who need to hang onto this image of Jesus’ return and the promise of healing, the promise of life. There’s so much suffering in our world, so much brokenness that is put on too many people and children. I’ve walked with people who have been broken by abuse, neglect, hatred and rejection; walked with those who have inherited disease and hurt through no fault of their own and there’s no healing this side of heaven and so they hang on fiercely to this promised vision that John gives us as to what the future holds, of the healing and restoration that’s coming. Too often I can only helplessly walk alongside people, weep with them, rail at the injustice in our world, do the best we can to ease the hurt and then point to Jesus and his return. Our lives are brief in the grand scope of eternity, but that doesn’t lessen our suffering here and so we walk as best we can with compassion and grace, helping each other see Jesus and the compassion of the Father. But it also gives us a vision to work towards as we prepare for Jesus’ return.
John’s writing this revelation and vision to churches going through severe persecution. John himself is in exile on the rocky island of Patmos, writing to the churches to give them hope and help them see God’s presence; giving them the strength of knowing that Jesus is returning and bringing healing and new life through himself. We already have a taste of the new life because of Jesus’ death on the cross where he paid the penalty for our sin. We’ve received the Holy Spirit that Jesus sends after his resurrection from the grave and return to heaven. The book of Revelation is the story of the battle that Satan is fighting against Jesus, a battle that Satan lost at the cross. The tree of life points us to Jesus’ victory.
When I read this passage, I close my eyes so that I can see in my mind’s eye the picture John’s giving us here. The wide street running through the center of the city and the river of the water of life, an echo of Psalm 1, flowing beside it with the trees of life lining them both, providing shade from the sun, think of the trees on 51st Ave, as they draw their life nourishment from the water of life flowing from the throne of God. John echoes images found in the book of the prophet Ezekiel and the Psalms. John echoes Jesus’ own words to the Samaritan woman he met at a well, where Jesus calls himself living water. He offers her new life, offering this woman who’s an outcast in her own village living water and acceptance and respect in spite of her past. Grace and salvation come from Jesus, not from what we have done, especially when our past has been filled with brokenness and hurt.
Matthew Sleeth wrote Reforesting Faith, a book that reflects on how trees in the Bible help us see and understand God more deeply He loves how John describes heaven and Jesus’ return, “Like others, I wonder what heaven will be like. On the earth most people place their best chair or couch facing the television. In heaven God’s throne faces a tree. Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” I want to get to heaven to see God. I want to meet the saints. And I want to eat the fruit of heaven.” He encourages us to have as our goal “an orchard in heaven.”
Scott Hoezee, the professor of preaching at Calvin Seminary, says this passage “Generates Hope. But true, biblical hope is no opiate, no excuse for passivity, no reason not to rage appropriately against the machinations of injustice, poverty, corruption, and violence today. Rather hope is what animates us precisely to begin leaning into and living toward exactly the vision for abundant flourishing that John sketches in his vision. Hope is what gives us the steel and the grit to soldier on for the truth, to preach the Gospel, to denounce that which Christ died to end and anything that will not have a place in the New Creation.
Hope is what got Mother Theresa to bathe the putrid flesh of lepers in Calcutta. Hope is what made Martin Luther King, Jr., and the others walk across that bridge in Selma. Hope is what let Nelson Mandela get out of bed every morning across long years of unjust imprisonment. Hope is what moves every volunteer in a soup kitchen to ladle out bowls of chicken and rice and to griddle up some toasted cheese sandwiches for the homeless. It is not the hopeless who found Hospices, establish Ebola clinics in remote parts of Africa, or stand in the breach when rival drug gangs threaten to shoot up whole neighborhoods. It is the hopeFUL who do all that precisely because they even now serve a risen Savior who also right now has all the power to accomplish what will fully come when the vision of Revelation 21-22 becomes each creature’s everyday reality.”
The tree of life reminds us that what we experience today is not the end of the story, especially when times are hard. Every time you see a tree, let it remind you that God is a God of abundance, a God of life, even when your life feels stunted and withered. When our roots are in the water of life that is Jesus, there is always hope. Let this inspire you to work to be a person who changes things, who works to be a blessing wherever you are. May those same trees also point you to Jesus again and his amazing love, a love stronger than death, stronger than evil, a love that will bring us into the presence and light of the Father one day where we will find complete healing for all our wounds in the tree of life.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Matthew 12:33-37 Make Your Tree Good

Our passage this morning is part of a bigger story where Jesus heals a man possessed by a demon and then is accused by the Pharisees of being a servant of Beelzebub, the prince of demons. This is the kind of crazy thing that you couldn’t make up; you would think that the very people who spent so much of their time studying the Jewish Scriptures would recognize that Jesus’ power doesn’t come from the prince of demons, but from God. The regular people who followed Jesus got it, they asked good questions, “Could this be the Son of David?” another way of asking, “Is Jesus the promised Messiah that God is going to send us to save his people?”
So how did the Pharisees get it so wrong even though they knew so much about who God is and how God relates to his people and all his promises to us? Jesus points to their hearts, using the image of a tree that bears fruit. Likely Jesus is teaching outside the city and is using an orchard that is right there as his example, an orchard of olive trees full of healthy olives right for the picking. The people in the crowd know how much work it takes to grow healthy trees that bear good fruit, and how easy it is to let an orchard fall apart through neglect and a lack of farming skills. Good fruit doesn’t just happen, any farmer or gardener can tell you that. Lots of work and training goes into growing good fruit.
Good fruit in our own lives doesn’t just happen, it comes out of a healthy deliberate relationship with God through Jesus. Health doesn’t come through just knowing the stories of the Bible, being able to recite the attributes of God, or being able to pass a Bible knowledge test, it comes of being connected to Jesus and getting our life from him. In John 15, Jesus talks about this, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
A fellow pastor told me he knew when he was heading to a breakdown because he stopped caring about other people. But he mentioned that it began long before that as over time he slowly became more cynical about people, looking at the negative in life rather than how God was blessing him. He began to fill his head and heart with things that focused on making him number one instead of Jesus and he stopped trusting that Jesus really cared about him or was working in him or through him. He could feel his heart and soul whither, but he didn’t pay any attention to the early signs of spiritual rot and disease slowly growing in him. The Pharisees revealed the spiritual rot in their souls by refusing to acknowledge that Jesus’ power came from God, not from demons. They rejected Jesus because his message and teaching threatened their place in the community. 
If the Pharisees couldn’t recognize that they were unhealthy and the fruit they were growing was bad, how can we know we are healthy and producing good fruit? It all begins with Jesus, with making Jesus the number one thing in our life. It’s easy to say, but much harder to live out because we are easily distracted and our hearts, as the catechism reminds us, that we have a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbour and that unless we are born again, we are inclined to all evil. This is why Jesus calls us to remain in him so we can bear good fruit. Jesus has made us clean and healthy by taking our sin that makes us unhealthy to the cross where he paid the price for our disobedience by dying for us. But he was also raised from the grave so that we can experience new life in him through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
If you’re wondering how your fruit is doing, start by taking a closer look at your day to day life. What kinds of things do you regularly talk about and how do you talk about these things? How do you talk about other people, with grace and understanding, looking to build them up, or are you more negative and critical? How do you treat others, the girl pumping your cash or the guy bagging your groceries, do you even acknowledge them and thank them? How do you react to the joys and challenges in life, do you give thanks regularly to God and do you really trust him or are you regularly filled with worry and stress because all you can see is what is going wrong instead of looking for the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life? This will give you a pretty good starting point for evaluating the kind of fruit you’re growing in your life. As Jesus tells the Pharisees, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good person brings good things out of the treasury stored up in him, and an evil person brings evil things out of the treasury stored up in him.”
I came across a meme that basically said: dancers dance, musicians make music, artists create art, administrators administer, salespeople sell, farmers farm, caregivers nurture, and I would add that followers of Jesus act more and more like Jesus. For a tree to be well nourished, it needs sun, water, pruning, and fertilizer at the right times. For us to be well nourished, we need to be filled with Jesus, our hearts, souls and minds with his teaching, his life, his Spirit, allowing the Spirit and Scripture to shape our lives, our thoughts, our words and deeds. This is why over the years the church has developed the spiritual disciplines: things we do in order to allow the Holy Spirit to make us more like Jesus. Some of them are prayer, meditating on the Bible, tithing, acts of mercy, simplicity in life, fasting, worship and others. As John Ortberg says, “Practices such as reading Scripture and praying are important—not because they prove how spiritual we are - but because God can use them to lead us into life.
There are things we need to prune from our lives, ways of thinking and doing in order to be healthy spiritually so we can bear good fruit for Jesus. Sometimes it means changing what we listen to, watch or do because they lead us away from Jesus instead of closer. Over time I’ve had to give up certain friends because they influenced me in unhealthy ways, feeding my cynical or sarcastic side, feeding the anger that I’ve worked so hard over the years to control. I’ve learned there are certain kinds of shows or movies I shouldn’t watch, certain music or books that feed unhealthy parts of my soul. We need to cut away some of the unhealthier and wild branches off once in a while so the stronger healthier branches can produce more fruit.
Then there are the things I’ve added into my life, times of reflection and solitude, deeper study of the Scriptures and of the world around me in order to train myself to be able to see where Jesus is at work, even when it’s not always easy to recognize. These help us to remember that Jesus has a purpose for us, as the young man in the video mentioned, one of the reasons we are here is to love; to love God, each other and our neighbours. This creates healthy lives, healthy churches and healthy communities.
One of the key things I’ve learned about being healthy and bearing good fruit is that we don’t do this alone. We’re placed in a church community to help each other grow, to offer love and to receive love. Time and again we read about encouraging each other, about building each other up, about being a blessing. We follow Jesus and worship him together, we love each other and our community together, we serve each other and our community together, we share our faith in Jesus with others. Faith is not an individual activity; we’re created to follow Jesus together and together we help each other bear good fruit.